Life after a PhD

Life after a PhD… what do I do now?

In the last year of your PhD leading up to your thesis submission, almost everyone you come across asks that dreaded question: what’s next?

My ideal answer to that question: Sleep and go on a year-long holiday.

My actual answer to that question: I have absolutely no idea.

In my quest to figure out where I wanted my doctorate to take me, I spoke to several friends, colleagues, and lab heads about their experiences in their careers and how they got to where they were. My mistake was that I mainly spoke to people who were in academia, so I was often left thinking maybe I should at least try a postdoc. Luckily, I was offered a postdoctoral position shortly before I submitted my thesis, and so temporarily, I had an answer to that dreaded question. 

Then out of nowhere, I was offered a postdoctoral position at Yale University. Great! An opportunity that seemed too good to pass up! Unfortunately, this opportunity disappeared nearly as quickly as it appeared, and my full-time contract as a postdoc was almost ending.

Again, I had to tackle that ever-daunting question: what’s next?

With some luck, my contract was renewed, but on a part-time basis. At this point, I had decided that academia was not for me, but was fortunate enough that I had something to keep me occupied (and the income didn’t hurt), while I figured out my next move. All I’d ever known was academia so where does that leave me now?

I was left to explore the big, scary world full of opportunities and careers I’d never even considered. So there I was, checking LinkedIn, Seek and Indeed every day for the next new job posting I could apply for.

Do I fulfil the requirements? No.

Did I still apply? Yes.

Did I hear back from these jobs? Not often.

That’s when I saw a job posting by Word Monster… it ticked every box for me. Perhaps the pandemic changed me, but nothing appealed to me more than to work for a flexible and fully remote company that values its employee’s life OUTSIDE of work. While I wasn’t entirely sure what medical writing entailed, I knew I would regret not applying.

Since starting the job with Word Monster, I’ve been juggling two part-time jobs; one of which is a lab-based research position. For anyone who does research, you’ll understand me when I say that only working on dedicated days half the week is nearly impossible.

Leave your cells for too long? They’ll become too confluent.

Miss a time point for your animal experiment? You’ve wasted your time and expensive resources.

No matter how hard you try, you can’t fully control which days experiments fall on. That’s where flexible working hours and a remote workplace has been extremely beneficial for me. If I know I need to go into the lab on a Friday, I can easily wake up earlier and work a couple more hours on the other days I dedicate to medical writing, from the comfort of my own home (or a café accompanied with delicious coffee and food).

While my academia chapter is coming to an end, my med comms chapter is only beginning. I can confidently say the next thing for my career is to fully explore the med comms world, and all the opportunities and challenges associated with it. As it’s all still very new to me, I have only skimmed the surface of what it truly means to be a medical communicator in Australia.

About the author:

Dr Keely Tan is a medical writer for Word Monster Australia. She has developed a love for scientific storytelling, from interpretation of complex data to finding engaging and effective ways to communicate this information.

Immediately after completing a PhD in breast cancer, she continued to work as a postdoctoral researcher in the field of oncology. She has since shifted from academia, and entered the world of medical writing.

You can learn more about Keely (aka Kizzy) here.

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